24/7 Wall Street recently reported a nationwide fall in gas prices – always good news for the sluggish U.S. economy, which depends on low energy costs and on subsidizing the American consumer and his automobile. And it’s particularly good news for the poor and middle class whose stagnant real income is most sensitive to gas prices. Right?
Well, we need more than cars to drive; we also need things to drive on, like roads and bridges, which are in deplorable disrepair across the country. And perhaps, instead of subsidizing consumption with cheaper fuel, we should encourage conservation by bringing gas prices into line with social and environmental costs. But such changes require two very bad things: public works and higher taxes.
Right now, the highway trust fund is fast going broke, jeopardizing hundreds of thousands of both projects and jobs, because House Republicans won’t touch anything that might be perceived as a tax and don’t think the government should be responsible for anything except their pensions and health care. Never mind that only Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have lower gas taxes than America, and that almost half our states haven’t raised the gas tax in ten years.
Still, we continue to crush high-speed rail and any other innovations that might be more efficient and might leave in the ground some of the fossil fuels damaging our climate.
What if instead we rebuilt our crumbling infrastructure, tripled the price of gasoline, and subsidized the transition for those hit hardest by the changes?